Kony Ruins Friendships
have at least one close friend who has enacted a strict policy of un-friending people who so much as mention Kony 2012 on Facebook. I have several other friends who have made no mystery of their quickly evaporating Kony-related patience. Weirdly, though, nothing about the cause itself seems to encourage this ire. This is not about the matter of Invisible Children possibly bilking the online audiences out of their cash, the deeply insulting nature of the film, a growing frustration with slacktivism, Status Update Crusaders, whatever you want to call it. Feel however you want about Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army or the U.S. foreign policy in Uganda. What’s interesting is the dislike of the Kony video is frequently unrelated to an opinion about the cause itself. They are just plain sick of hearing about Joseph Kony. And it only took about 24 hours.
The rate at which we experience media over-saturation is increasing. By my count it was only three, maybe five days at the most, before people had enough of “What People Think I Do” posts on Facebook. Before that, only about seven or ten days before people were begging on multiple platforms for an end to all “Shit X Says” posts, with self-referential satires like “Shit Everyone Says”. Kony 2012 came next, closing the gap between meme-ception, the point at which an internet phenomenon occurs, and meme-halflife, the point at which it’s popularity has caused it to degrade into a significantly less sharable category of media. As internet culture and mainstream culture continue their asymptotic approach this gap will continue to close; an effect of this seems to be a growing impatience for “viral media,” internet memes and the like.
This is all to say: the tolerance for internet culture is lower on Facebook than on any other platform I use.
Facebook Hates Internets
My Facebook friends can be divided into two groups: Internet and Non Internet. Internet friends are not necessarily people I have met via the internet, but rather people who work on the internet or engage in a more than casual relationship with internet culture. They understand that in some cases, a Hitler joke might be funny, and are able to spot a troll a mile away. By comparison, my Non Internet friends are normal people with day jobs who don’t know what Goatse is. They’ve probably never argued with someone about how to pronounce “GIF.”
My internet friends rarely, if ever, post anything internet culture-related on Facebook. No macros, no iterations, rarely a cute picture of a cat (unless it’s their own). More and more, however, my Non Internet friends are posting bits and pieces of internet culture, sometimes bits they’ve made themselves. Which is actually very exciting. For real. Kudos to them! I think it’s great to make something. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, I honestly believe UGC is the key to a better future. In this case of Facebook, it’s also really interesting. Interesting not only as a sign of internet and mainstream culture canoodling, but also as a possible cause for a growing internet culture over saturation, experienced by those who don’t want to consume funny pictures of cats every time they log into to see what their pals are up to.
Facebook: A Website For Complaining About Facebook
My theory is that my Internet Friends don’t post meme iterations on Facebook because it is simply not great at media sharing. There are other locations like Know Your Meme, Twitter and 4chan that are much better suited. Those Non Internet folks, though, they don’t have another outlet to share their media. Forums are terrifying, comment threads are where weirdos and deviants hang out, and WTF is a Reddit? And really, for the most part, they’re right, and so … off to Facebook it is.
The thing, though, is that we don’t all really have an agreed upon use of Facebook. Some people use it for self promotion, some people use it for conversation, some for messaging and some, yes, for media sharing. But we ALL use it; in that way Facebook has become kind of like email. It is the lowest common denominator of online public, peer interactions. It’s a thing you just … do. It’s a reflex. So when someones ideal use of FB doesn’t match up with yours, it gets a little complicated. You don’t have the Twitter-style escape hatch of a non-reciprocal follow relationship. You either hide them (which then raises the complicated social question of why you friended them in the first place) or if you want to make a point, you ruthlessly un-friend them.
It’s not until a piece of media reaches a kind of Sharing Runaway that things really start to get ugly, though. At a certain point the Kony 2012 video had been shared so much, it seemed as though people were sharing it out of a sense of duty, momentum, something. Logically and practically, it need not be shared again, so something was fueling those all those clicking fingers.
This is where the saturation occurs. Where the momentum of the sharing exceeds the desired exposure levels for those who use Facebook as something other than a media aggregator (which is, by my personal count, most people). The momentum for Shit X Says videos was low, so it took longer. Momentum for What People Think I Do was reasonably high but downright meagre compared to Kony, which is now, incidentally, the most viral video IN HISTORY
How To Choose What To Hate
Several weeks ago my Facebook feed was lousy with posts made by friends complaining about not getting Kraftwerk tickets. A new Wes Anderson film trailer? Can’t escape it. Rick Santorum said something dangerous and uneducated about the rights of women or minorities again? I’ll know all about it. But the relative number of complaints about these topics? Relatively low. Exceptionally low compared to the Kony 2012 Share : Kony 2012 Hate ratio.
The answer, I think, lies somewhere at a crossroads. For many, Facebook is a place to post and consume personal media. It is not a place to mount crusades or attempt rallying around a cause. The cynicsm for non-personal media is high, particularly the ones with conspicuously political or partisan messages. But what qualifies as personal media? Does the Shit X Says video you made count as personal? What about the hyper-specific What People Think I Do made by a friend who is a molecular biologist? These areas are grey, to say the least.
It seems increasingly likely that a viral burnout is approaching, if not already here, making me wonder whether sooner or later we’ll be treating “Internet Phenomena” with the same disdain as we did the Kardashians around this time last year.
Michael Rugnetta is a composer, programmer and performer living in Brooklyn, NY (with what feels like the rest of the creative industry) and works as a composer for performance /video. He also studies the vast fields of Internet memes and culture in his role as the alumni scientist of Know Your Meme.